Martin Luther – proclaimed freedom from guilt in being justified by faith in Christ alone
1483 – 1546
Few people could say that they have personally changed an entire civilisation, but Martin Luther could. Born in 1483, Luther was pursuing a legal career when a dramatic lightning storm changed everything. Riding on horseback back to university he was caught in a terrifying thunderstorm. Fearing for his life, he cried out to St Anne (the patron saint of miners, which was his father’s business) to rescue him, promising to be a monk if he survived.
Luther kept his promise but his monastic career deeply troubled his conscience. Despite his extreme religious efforts, his ongoing sin and inability to attain the righteousness required by God’s law left him angry, even hating God. Yet while reading Paul’s letter to the Romans he finally discovered that the righteousness of God is not only what God is like, but also what God provides for us in the perfect life of Jesus Christ – which is counted as ours to qualify us for heaven, as a sheer gift (from outside ourselves) solely through faith in Christ. This re-discovery of ‘justification by faith alone’ would spark the Protestant Reformation and a decisive break with the Roman Catholic Church.
Luther’s prolific and polemical writings ensured conflict with the establishment, provoking trials and dangerous threats to his life and liberty. Nevertheless, from his pen came sermons, songs, catechisms and commentaries that launched and inspired the European reformation – a seismic theological and social revolution. He championed the power of God’s Word, the bondage of the human will and the centrality of the cross for Christian life and theology. Luther was witty and often shocking – in boldly proclaiming God’s wondrous gift of freedom from guilt through justification by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God alone.